An important French patinated bronze figural fountain depicting Tritons and Neirids, Henri-Leon Greb
Lot 1235W
The magnificent and important Widener French patinated bronze figural fountain depicting Tritons and Nereids
Sold for US$ 392,250 inc. premium
Lot Details
The magnificent and important Widener French patinated bronze figural fountain depicting Tritons and Nereids
Henri-Leon Greber
circa 1900

The central fountainhead in the form of a hippo, its fearsome mouth wide, as if disturbed while grazing, within a circle of reeds and water grasses, the heavily muscled Tritons encircled with lotus and waterlily vines in defensive postures moving towards the beast, the first, his gaze intent under heavy brows, his scaled bifurcated tail writhen and contorted as his torso twists to add weight to the thrust of the trident raised overhead, the other, with acquiline profile under a crown of water lilies, leaning back to propel the harpoon held aloft at the menacing water beast, the Nereids, both with plaited hair entwined with water grasses, and with startled expressions as if an idyllic bright moment suddenly clouded, one twisting away on her back, her arm lifted as to deflect a lunge from the beast, the other turned with both arms extended to commence a powerful forward stroke. Together with some installation hardware; including three stands for the figures, a support for the hippo, two supports for the reeded ring and a ring with fittings for water nozzles.
height of the hippo 24in (61cm); width 21in (54cm); diameter of reeded ring approximately 4ft 2in (1.27m); height of mustached Triton 45in (1.14m); length 6ft 6in (1.98m); greatest width 4ft 6in (1.37m); height of second Triton 4ft 1in (1.25m); length 5ft 6in (1.68m); greatest width 46in (1.17m) height of first Nereid 32in (81cm); length 5ft 11in (1.80m); greatest width 4ft 5in (1.35m); height of second Nereid 30in (76cm); length 6ft 3in (1.90m); greatest width 5ft (1.52m); height of stands 26½ to 29in (67cm to 72cm)

Footnotes

  • The Widener Family of Philadelphia

    Peter Arrell Brown Widener, born in 1834, was a direct descendant of Cristoph Widener who arrived in Philadelphia in 1752. After apprenticing to be a butcher he opened his first shop in the Spring Garden Market district of Philadelphia, and in time owned several shops throughout the city. During the Civil War he received a lucrative contract to provide mutton to the Union Army, and using those funds he partnered to open a horse car transit system. By the end of the 19th century, Widener companies provided gas and electricity throughout the east and mid-west, and owned public transit companies in New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Washington and Chicago. Widener organized the U.S. Steel Company and the American Tobacco Company, eventually becoming part owner of the International Mercantile Marine. Along with J.P. Morgan he became part owner in the White Star Line, which included the Titanic in its fleet. His son, George Dunton Widener, his grandson Harry and their valet died in the sinking of the Titanic. His daughter-in-law Eleanor survived with her maid.

    Peter Widener was an avid collector, primarily of Old Master and Impressionist paintings, and his collection was renowned internationally. In 1898, needing to house the ever increasing collection, Widener hired architect Horace Trumbauer to design and build Lynnewood Hall, a Georgian style house at Elkins Park, north of Philadelphia. In 1910, the French landscape architect Jacques Greber designed the thirty-six acres of formal French gardens that surrounded the house. Greber’s father, the noted sculptor Henri-Leon Greber, designed and supervised the casting of the Triton and Nereid fountain.

    Presidents, European royalty, industrialists and prominent families were guests of the Wideners at Lynnewood Hall. Peter Widener began the family tradition of philanthropy that continued for several generations. His grandson’s Harry’s collection of books was given to Harvard University, where Widener had donated the Widener Memorial Library. He also built the Widener Memorial Training School for Handicapped Children. The Widener Collection in the Nationial Gallery of Art, Washington, donated in 1939, is one of the greatest collections ever bestowed to a museum in the United States. Peter Widener died in 1915 before work on the gardens at Lynnewood was completed.

    Lynnewood Hall

    Lynnewood Hall was designed by the noted architect Horace Trumbauer (1868-1938). Trumbauer also designed the Widener's Philadelphia town home and their house in New York city. He worked with the French firm of Carlhian et Fils to design the interior appointments. Lynnewood was built on 300 acres of land with a 36 acre garden designed by Jacques Greber, son of noted French sculptor Henri-Leon Greber. Jacques Greber was a noted urban planner who developed the master design for the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and, later in his career, was master designer for the 1937 International Paris Exhibition. His gardens at Lynnewood were once called the finest example of French classical landscape art in America.

    Besides the 110 room residence, the property included stables, greenhouses, a polo field and a reservoir. A staff of 100 was required to maintain the property. Upon Peter Widerner’s death in 1915, Joseph Widener inherited the property and became the 20th richest man in America. Inheriting his father's appreciation of fine art, and having maintained the family collection, Joseph exchanged catalogues of their respective collections with Queen Mary in 1932.

    During Word War II, the grounds of Lynnewood Hall were used for training military dogs. In 1943 the southern part of the estate was sold, and shortly thereafter the house, outlying structures and remaining land were sold to a buyer with plans to turn it into a Protestant Seminary. When the buyer defaulted on the $99,000 mortgage, the Wideners repossessed the property, and later sold it to Faith Theological Seminary. The Seminary was not able to maintain the property and began selling off the fixtures. Although in disrepair, Lynnewood Hall still stands surrounded by its original decorative wrought iron fence.

    Henri-Leon Greber

    Sculptor Henri-Leon Greber (1855-1942) was born in Beauvais and studied under Fremiet and Mercie. Beginning in 1882 he exhibited continuously at the Salon des Artistes. In 1900 he won a gold medal at the Paris Exposition Universelle and was later made a chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur. In 1910 he executed an equestrian bronze fountain for Charles Mackay’s residence in Roslyn, New York. That fountain is now installed in Kansas City and is known as the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain. Greber was commissioned in 1914 by Widener to execute several sculptures as well as the magnificient bronzes for the Triton and Nereid fountain at Lynnewood Hall. Other than the Nichols fountain, the fountain offered here of the Tritons rescuing the Nereids is the only large figural fountain by Greber known to exist in the United States. So grand in scale and expertly executed, it has been an object of fascination for many vistors to Lynnewood Hall, connoiseurs of art and scholars. In 1990, the fountain was the subject of a research paper by University of Pennsylvania architecture graduate student Alfred Branam, Jr. Branam has since become a noted writer on architecture whose books include A Selection of the Architecture of Horace Trumbauer. Greber’s other works have been in the collections of the Sevres Museum, Dijon Museum, Chambery Museum, Petit Palais Museum, Beauvais Museum and the D’Orsay Museum as well as the Luxembourg Museum.

    Nereids and Tritons

    Nereids, totaling fifty, were the daughters of the sea god Nereus and lived in the Mediterranean sea, often coming to the aid of sailors and ships. Poseidon fell in love with the nereid Amphritrite and their son was Triton who had the body of a man and double fish tails, and was the male counterpart to a nereid. Later in Greek mythology, more tritons appear as descendants of Triton and companions of the nerieds. Tritons and nereids escorted ships to the Trojan Wars as well as assisted the shipwrecked Jason and his argonauts.

    It is interesting to note that the subject of the fountain is the rescue of two nereids by the tritons in a river, rather than the sea. It has been suggested that the nereids were lured to the river, became entangled in the water lilies and rushes, and were attacked by a hippopotamus. The tritons came to their rescue, returning them to the sea. Hippopotomi appear docile and are portrayed as lovable when, in fact, more human beings die from hippopotamus attacks than by any other animal.

    The protection of ships and sailors would have great appeal to Peter Widener, who was the owner of marine shipping lines and part owner of the White Star line. He suffered terribly with the tragic loss of a son and grandson in the sinking of the Titanic. Not even tritons and nereids could have saved the fated ship.
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